CHARLOTTE – Roberto Aguayo was considered the only draft-worthy kicker in the 2016 class, but rarely has a kicker been chosen as early as he was.
With the 59th overall pick, a selection acquired at the expense of a third- and fourth-round pick, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made Aguayo just the fourth kicker taken in the first two rounds in a quarter-century.
Eighteen months later, Aguayo finds himself preparing for a game against the Buccaneers – as the newest member of the Panthers' practice squad.
"At the time I was drafted, I thought, 'Second round for a kicker? That's cool,'" Aguayo said. "The expectations were high, and at that point it's like I felt like I had to be someone different, someone better – a second-round person."
Instead, Aguayo devolved into another kind of rarity – a second-round draft pick abandoned after just one season.
But, not because of what he was once believed to be but because of what he is now, Aguayo has another chance.
Graham Gano – like Aguayo a Lou Groza Award winner from Florida State but unlike Aguayo an undrafted one – is entrenched as Carolina's starter. But the team decided it wise to bring in some insurance with Gano dealing with some knee soreness, and Aguayo beat out three others in a workout Tuesday.
"He kicked the ball very well - made all his kicks – and kicked off very well. He fit the bill," head coach Ron Rivera said. "With the situation Graham had last week, we just feel we have to have a security blanket, and he was the best one we brought in."
"We had a conversation, talked about what happened. It was interesting. He talked about some of the things he did and some of the things he felt, that he did feel the pressure of having been a second-round pick. It was interesting to hear him be very honest and upfront about it. I thought that was a good sign."
Aguayo never came close to the lofty expectations in Tampa, finding himself on the hot seat after making just one of his first three field goals as a rookie. He finished the year 22-for-31, a 71-perent success rate that brought up the rear in the NFL stats book. Included in it was a 4-for-8 showing against the Panthers, though he did make the game winner in a Monday Night Football game at Bank of America Stadium.
"It's funny, I told Coach Rivera, 'I'm sorry for hitting the game winner last year.' He was like, 'No, you're doing your job,'" Aguayo said. "One year ago I was here, one day I was back home, and now I'm here. It's definitely a blessing. I'm excited."
Going from the most accurate kicker in college football history to the least accurate kicker in the 2016 NFL season, Aguayo had to battle journeyman Nick Folk for his job this offseason, and he lost out (though Folk kept the job for just four games). The Bears picked Aguayo up and pitted him against veteran Connor Barth, who beat him out to leave Aguayo jobless entering the season.
A practice squad spot isn't exactly the promised land, but it is a foot in the door.
"You hear all the guys on the team that had been cut three or four times and you kind of think about it, but you don't know how it feels," Aguayo said. "In college, I was at the peak of the position. How can I go from that to being a second-round draft pick to being let go?
"You go back to basics. It's humbling. It definitely is. It felt good to regroup, and then with the opportunity I had here I did well, and they chose me. It's great to be here."
View photos of the week of practice leading up to the Panthers' game against the Buccaneers.